Food as Medicine?

On February 26th I had a med-check with my psychiatrist. The 10mg of Brintellix (an anti-depressant) was working, but historically February through April are my worst months for depression. Sam and I were having issues, money was tight, and Atticus was having significant behavior issues at school. These are all little things, but my Dr. and I thought it best to bump up the anti-depressant slightly since my last depressive bout was only in December. The next day I took my increased dosage of Brintellix and life was dandy for a few days.

About three days into my new dose I started to climb towards hypomania. I was terrified. I’m sure you’ve probably witnessed film portrayals of a “manic-depressive” wherein some quirky person is suddenly gleeful, fun, and brilliant during mania. While these characteristics are certainly part of the hypomania/mania package, it isn’t everything and each bipolar or bipolar II sufferer experiences hypomania/mania in vastly different ways. I knew I was hypomanic because I was riddled with acute anxiety. I couldn’t sleep and when I did sleep for a few hours I had vivid, reoccuring nightmares. During the day I startled easily and was restless. I would stop and start projects at work because I was so distracted. In addition to the physical restlessness I had pressured speech that jumped topics. Audiotory sensitivity was also an issue. Basically I could hear EVERYTHING. It was like someone turned up the volume on all white noise. Y’all, I could hear the lightbulbs humming. The most horrifying side effect was intense social anxiety. I’m not talking about being introverted, I’m talking about not wanting to leave the house, missing a committee meeting because I couldn’t walk into a room of people, and canceling a dentist appointment for a cleaning because the thought of the loud scraping and people bending over me in my face riddled me with fear. I’m exceedingly proud that I went to work each day with exception of one day I spent at home with Atticus after he had a dental procedure. It took every ounce of fortitude to leave my home and act like a functioning human. Daylight Savings time was just around the corner and I was completely aware that it would contribute to the problem and I was afraid I the hypomania would grow.

I lived in this state of anxiety for about a week and a half to give the recommended two weeks for the medicine to even out. After that, with my psychiatrists blessing, I stepped back down to the 10mg and I’ve been on that dosage for about a week. I’m back to feeling like myself again. I’m glad I was mindful of my symptoms and I didn’t get a full-blown hypomania episode like I did in November. See, hypomania or mania is always followed by a crash. One doesn’t go from hypomania to “typical.” Instead a depressive episode usually follows a hypomanic episode. In those of us with an illness on the bipolar spectrum anti-depressants can trigger hypomania or mania. Then you crash and the dose of anti-depressant is not enough to pull you out of the resulting depressive crash and upping anti-depressants are not an option because MANIA. Enter mood stabilizers like Lithium, Depakote, and Lamictal. I’ve had them all in the past and I royally hate them. For one there is massive water retention and weight gain and then a prevading sense of numbness to everyone and everything around you.

Fuck that.

I mean, I’d go on mood stabilizers if my doctor thought it essential to my health, but right now I’m not in crisis. I’m no longer hypomanic and I’m not depressed. I’m STABLE, but to maintain that stability I have to self-care like a motherfucker.

In my view there are at least two types of self-care, emotional and physical. I am super good at emotional self-care. I see my therapist, I make time to be alone and spend time with family, I’ll do the guided meditations and the coloring pages, I will process and validate the hell out of my feelings and I’m a badass at journaling or blogging to cope and reflect. What I really suck at is physical self-care. Bipolar II is a biological disease. My brain is completely wired up differently. I will always have bipolar II disorder. There are chemical and biological machinations in my brain that require medication. However, I’ve been completely lax at doing the physical self-care I need to do to keep me from slipping back into instability, depression, and illness. Think of it this way. If I had diabetes I could take insulin and not do a damned thing else, but I might not be living the best life I could. If I had diabetes and took insulin, but then also took up healthy eating and excercise I WOULD THRIVE.

Thriving is a pretty appealing goal.

Of course this library gal was not content with what the internet provided as far as holistic bipolar management. Some whack jobs seem to think that supplements, kale, and yoga can CURE bipolar. Color me skeptical. I took my ass to my library’s medical research databases and found several articles from journals like The Journal of Biomedical SceinceThe Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, and The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine and read up on how to create a healthy lifestyle when one has bipolar disorder. I mostly stuck to reading the abstracts, but I learned so much.

Long story short, my diet and lifestyle are screwing me over in the mental health department. When I went back to being an omnivore last summer it was add some variety to my diet. Instead I went back to bread, fast food, sugary treats, tons of coffee and precious few vegetables and fruits. After some academic research I took myself to Pinterest and for several days I pinned healthy recipes chockfull of nutrient-dense food. I decided to go about 80% vegetarian because I simply choose better food when I’m eating vegetarian. I have chicken or fish in the meal plan, but most of my meals are vegetarian. Belly dance or walking for daytime exercise and YouTube yoga at night. B-12 in the morning, fish oil in the afternoon, and a probiotic several times a day. 8 to 10 cups of water and no more than two cups of coffee.

It has only been a week, but I feel better. I’m enjoying cooking (and eating)! Sam’s blood pressure went back up when we went back to being omnivores, so this change will be good for the entire family. Expect to see an occasional health check-in and perhaps some recipes. Cross your fingers this healthy lifestyle sticks and keeps me off the mood stablizers!





  1. Cheering you on over here! I love that you are so proactive about this. When you learn new things about yourself, you change and aren’t afraid of the work it takes.

  2. Good luck, Amanda! I know that it’s a difficult balance to maintain but I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better. And good on you for knowing where your symptoms were headed and nipping it in the bud — you got out in front of your anxiety and that’s incredibly hard to do. You’re doing great work.

  3. You know, they always talk about exercise as a way to help depression and other mental health issues, and I totally agree, but no one ever talks about the way food affects our mental health! I noticed a few years back then whenever I eat sugar, no matter how well I’ve been eating before then, I’m going to have a little dip where I get depressed. Depending on how badly I eat after that sugar, the depression might stick around. And when you’re depressed, it’s hard to eat well, even though that can help you get out of it! I don’t think of food as a cure-all, of course – nothing is a cure-all – but seriously eating in a way that is best for your body can really do a fair job of helping keep mental illness under control!

    I’m glad you’ve found a balance that works for you, Amanda! Mania and hypo-mania can be terrible. I remember manic spells where I could stop walking and shaking my hands back and forth, because my body just wouldn’t stop moving. It was like having a constant panic attack. NO FUN. I love hearing about the very round way you’re approaching your health, from all sides. That’s a step so many people never take.

    1. I just had to piggy back on Amanda’s comment. I think it’s so ridiculous that food’s effect on us doesn’t come up for discussion more often. I can see it in everyone in my family from Greyson on up to myself, David, and my mom. SO IMPORTANT!

  4. Sugar and caffeine are huge triggers for my own anxiety, and yet I find it so hard to curb them. It’s aggravates me (at myself I mean) to no end. I need to get better about it. I can’t wait to see you share a few recipes. 🙂

    Also – Can I get “I have to self-care like a motherfucker” embroidered on a throw pillow? Haha. I feel like I need that reminder in my life sometimes, and definitely everyone around me does as well.

  5. Good for you finding great ways to help your health! I need to eat healthier too, but generally dislike veggies. I’m trying to find ways to cook them that I can actually enjoy.

    B12 has worked wonders for me. I was having some aches and pains, so after the doctor did some blood work, she discovered I had a vitamin deficiency! Now I get B12 shots and take Vitamin D and the aches went away! So amazing what good vitamins and nutrients can do for our bodies.

  6. Yay, yay, yay! I’ll just echo everybody else that we don’t hear enough about the benefit of good food choices. I’m trying to get back to better habits myself. I’ve had a rough few weeks with my feet that has kept me from exercising and it is driving me CRAZY! Just my little 30 min walk had SO many benefits that I was taking for granted — better sleep at night, that dose of sunshine aka vitamin D, a chance to clear my head, etc.. I’m hoping to be back out there soon, but definitely feeling the importance of self-care.

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